Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Take Me Out"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


"TAKE ME OUT"

by Richard Greenberg
directed by Paul Daigneault

Kippy Sunderstrom … Nathaniel McIntyre
Darren Lemming … Ricardo Walker
Shane Mungitt … Christopher Brophy
Skipper; William R. Danziger … Bill Molnar
Martinez; Guard … Achilles Vatrikas
Rodriguez … Ricardo H. Rodriguez
Jason Chenier … Paul Ricciardi
Toddy Koovitz … Robert Najarian
Davey Battle … Ricardo Engermann
Mason Marzac … Neil A. Casey
Takeshi Kawabata … Samuel Young

Richard Greenberg’s award-winning TAKE ME OUT is one long ego-stroke; the intensity of your pleasure goes hand-in-hand with the intensity of your involvement: Darren Lemming, a well-known baseball player and celebrity publicly announces his homosexuality; his straight chum and teammate Kippy Sunderstrom narrates Darren’s subsequent trials and tribulations which include grumbles from the team and clashes with pitcher Shane Mungitt, a bigoted redneck. Mr. Greenberg takes infinite care to make everyone feel warm, cozy and welcome: gay audiences are to revel in the positive soapboxing; straight audiences are to feel gratitude for the enlightenment; everyone is to go away feeling smug and self-satisfied --- on the night I attended, the packed house laughed, cheered and turned angry on cue but was I the only one who felt he was watching a hollow little play?

Strike One: Darren has never been in love with anyone and admits to having few friends; he is a beautiful, isolated specimen (read “safe”) --- his closeted days are not explored and the only kiss he bestows is intended as a comeuppance --- and with the affectionate, supportive Kippy ever telling you how to react, you can’t help feeling you’re being led by the nose even if you choose to go willingly. How does one cheer on an underdog when he’s already perfect --- or is it too early in the game to have flawed gay characters as leads?

Strike Two: TAKE ME OUT is presentational in format and renders most of its supporting characters as one-dimensional cartoons: Shane Mungitt is a goon to be hated on sight; the coach Skipper is little more than a hearty Little League dad; Toddy and Davey, the two other English-speaking players, are dum-dums borrowed from DAMN YANKEES and Mr. Greenberg was wise not to include a dialogue between the pair and Shane: theirs would have been a fantasia in Stoopid. For all its daringness, which includes male nudity, TAKE ME OUT is timid, at heart: Mr. Greenberg falls back on Norman Lear’s technique of using humor to skate over touchy subjects: the constant joking between Darren and Kippy is thickly applied to keep the homophobic from squirming in their seats (laughter = familiarity = acceptance); hopefully future audiences will not need such sugar-coating to accept a gay character in all his moods (including desire) just as African-American characters need no longer sing, dance and play the buffoon to justify their own existence.

Strike Three: TAKE ME OUT changes its focus, thrice: first there is Darren (period), followed by bombardments from Mason Marzac, Darren’s closeted accountant who, inspired by his client, ecstatically embraces baseball as a symbol of democracy; the final half zeroes in on and concludes with Shane’s predictable villainy. One character comments on how the number “3” is lucky in baseball; said number has also been lucky for Mr. Greenberg, elsewhere: THE DAZZLE and THREE DAYS OF RAIN are more successful in concept and execution and use three actors, apiece; these plays are also private, intimate and as sealed off as a tomb. With TAKE ME OUT, Mr. Greenberg tries to broaden his canvas but his take on the baseball world only parallels that of the gushing Mason: the locker room becomes the Great Good Place where beautiful men bond, shower and get to know each other akin to bath house clientele; ironically, one of the overt rituals --- victorious athletes spraying champagne foam all over each other --- is missing.

To continue the 3’s, TAKE ME OUT has received its New England premiere as a collaboration between SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston Theatre Works and Broadway in Boston which may account for its blandness; the production, directed by the usually inventive Paul Daigneault, has a worked-over feel to it as if everyone has put in his or her oar, repeatedly, and cancelled each other out. Those who look back fondly on this production will, no doubt, be thinking of Ricardo Walker as Darren, an ideal stroke of casting. Mr. Walker is handsome, charismatic, looks good in (and out of) his uniform and contributes a winning performance that for all its defiance is actually quite subtle. The character of Skippy is a thoughtful, quietly intelligent Swedish-American (i.e. warm and physical); Nathaniel McIntyre plays him as such an annoying goofball, similar to his recent druggie in HOMEBODY/KABUL, that every time Mr. McIntyre exits all he needs is a cry of “23 Skiddo!” to proceed it. Christopher Brophy is to be commended for making near-sense out of Shane’s rube-speak, so blatant in its ignorance that it can make your ears wince, and as the scene-stealing Mason, Neil A. Casey puts together a big lacey valentine and then sends it to himself. Mr. Casey’s persona is the fussy, perennial bachelor from pre-Stonewall days; his attempts at being protean (THE WOMAN IN BLACK) or butch (IT’S ALL TRUE) brought him up, short, but his prim, obsessive packrat in THE DAZZLE was unforgettable --- no one could have played the dreamy psychotic as Mr. Casey did. Mason could be the role that puts Mr. Casey on the Boston map but his performance differs little from his stint in SHEAR MADNESS, several seasons ago, and his chirpy turn in WHEN PIGS FLY: here, Mr. Casey beams and twinkles, bends sideways at the waist and brings his knees together, jacks up his shoulders and minces along an invisible tightrope and, in short, becomes the very “dog-ette” that Mason bitches about to Darren.

The one moment of sudden theatre is Samuel Young in the minor role of Takeshi Kawabata, the Japanese ball player who refuses to learn English in order to keep his game pure. Mr. Young looks properly sullen and grunts his lines throughout much of the evening (notice how discretely he showers facing upstage, keeping his character’s decorum) but then Mr. Greenberg gives Mr. Young a hushed monologue (in English) that allows him to voice Takeshi’s locked-in thoughts. That moment is the "open sesame" to a guarded human heart not unlike Darren's and Mr. Greenberg later caps it by having Takeshi once again in the background as the silent member of a press conference --- an effective, one-two punch that shows up the slick emptiness of the rest of TAKE ME OUT. The play is an all-too-easy winner for many but a strike-out for me --- to quote the late James Agee, I prefer my art the hard way.

"Take Me Out" (29 April-11 June)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY/BOSTON THEATRE WORKS/BROADWAY IN BOSTON
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

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